I’m ashamed to say that when they said we’ll be meeting one of the smallest minority group in Isabela, I was thinking they were some remote tribes still wearing their traditional garbs similar to the Dumagats. The Yogad tribe in Echague, Isabela is quite different. They were wearing old Spanish style costumes in bright blue and red colors. They have small mirrors attached strategically at the front and back. They have swords and seem to be ready for battle. They did not come from deep into the mountains nor live by the sea. They sailed all the way from Mindanao many decades ago but today are facing extinction as an indigenous group.
“Tig tig tak! Tig tig tak!” I hear the sound of the loom beaters colliding. Creating a rhythmic beat as a weave of pattern slowly forms. I watch Auntie Benita busy with her loom at the balcony of her house overlooking the roof of her neighbors along with the high mountains hugging their village of Caneo (sometimes Can-eo). Her ever watchful grand daughter Shakira stays by her side. Observing how she skillfully coordinates her motions, from pedaling the treadles to shuffling the shuttle between the threads. Much like Shakira, Benita learned how to weave watching her mother as she grows up. Traditional Caneo weaving, which they call Tilar, is very much alive in this remote village.
The rainfall that was repressed during our first day in Cagayan was now letting on. Dark clouds loomed overhead and followed us like vultures waiting to pounce. Everything was bleak and the air was heavy with the smell of ozone. But despite the less than cheerful weather, we put on our best smiles and bucked up.
Isabela consist of 34 municipalities and 3 cities in a province. It is the second largest province in the country. The vast area consist of agricultural plains, forested areas of the Sierra Madres and coastal towns. As one of the top corn producers in the country, Isabela found the bambanti, an Ilocano term for scarecrow, as a significant icon, symbolizing Isabela farmer’s diligence and resoluteness to earn his keep, feed his family and produce for the community. Hence the Bambanti Festival was born in January 2013. It aims to unite the municipalities, showcase their creativity, unique products and increase tourism.
If you’ve ever visited the furniture shop Crate and Barrel, chances are, you may have seen these finely crafted placemats, carpets, rugs or even some exquisite living room furniture pieces made from abaca (Manila hemp), rattan or nito. The prices here is a premium and it’s easy to conclude that most of them may be imported. Interestingly, when I visited Camalig, Albay’s Natural Carpet Industries, I was surprised to see Crate and Barrel tags on the newly woven circular abaca placemats inside their 7,300 sq. m. factory. Those US$10 placemats at the shop can be bought here directly for only US$ 3. It just shows that the abaca industry is back in the limelight as one of the main export products of the country and can compete with international brands.
There’s a distinctive smell of wood amidst the mixture of paint and thinner lingering in the air. I could hear the constant pounding of multiple mallets on chisels carving away pieces of wood to make form to an otherwise large piece of wood. Occasional sawdust fills the air when sudden gust of wind blows through this open air wood carving workshop. Paete Woodcarving has been a thriving industry since the Spanish era until now. A walk at the town’s market road, it is hard not to notice the rows of shops, selling variety of wood work and paper mache. This crafty town of Paete, north-east of Laguna have earned its declaration as the Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines back in 2005. Thanks to proud Paetenians whose generations of wood carvers passed their skills and dedication for elevating the art. Here we meet some of the master woodcarvers that have etched their legacy in the town’s history.
There’s a certain excitement on visiting far-flung locations. Maybe the idea of finding authenticity in a remote location drives us to go further beyond the tourist trail. Often times we discover gems in seclusion but that is not always the case. Sumnanga Village, the farthest of the Sabtang island villages found at the west side probably has the least tourist footprint on the island. It even took me at least eight years to return to this village despite having been to the island several times already. But sadly it’s another case of tainting my good memories of the place but thankfully there’s redemption in its natural beauty.